After a torrid campaign in 2018-19, two-time Indian Super League (ISL) champions Chennaiyin FC will look to put those demons well and truly behind them, as they start the sixth season of the competition.
Chennaiyin finished rooted to the bottom of the table last season, with only nine points from the entire league phase, the lowest ever points total garnered by a team through the five years of the ISL.
It only proceeded to get worse for Chennaiyin, who were also dumped out of their first-ever continental campaign in the group stages of the AFC Cup, just falling short of Abahani Dhaka in the South Asia group.
But, with some seriously exciting players being signed, and some stars agreeing to stay on, Chennaiyin definitely are looking ahead to a positive campaign.
They've also had a good pre-season, with foreign imports in Dragos Firtulescu, Andre Schembri and Rafael Crivallero playing pivotal roles, as they look to settle into new surroundings.
It's surely the Indian signings, though, that have been on the lips of Chennaiyin fans. The gloom of last season has been replaced with excitement as they look forward to the prospect of Lallianzuala Chhangte donning the Chennaiyin blue, and so too, Vishal Kaith.
Chennaiyin FC Squad
Chhangte and Kaith are obviously the big Indian signings, but two club stalwarts in Mailson Alves and Raphael Augusto have left for new challenges. Chennaiyin will feel as though they have replaced Mailson adequately, having acquired Lucian Goian from Mumbai City FC.
Versatile Afghani Masih Saighani has been signed too, as an option to play either at centre-back or in midfield.
With Firtulescu, Schembri and Crivallero joining Lithuanian Nerijus Valskis and Chhangte in attack, Chennaiyin have given themselves a wealth of options going forward, but John Gregory knows that it's going the other way where they'll have to be much better than they were last season.
That's where he will hope that the return of Dhanpal Ganesh, who missed the whole of the last ISL season, will provide the team with much-needed solidity at the centre of the park. With Ganesh's fellow local boy in Edwin Sydney Vanspaul making the move from Chennai City FC, Chennaiyin will feel as though they have sufficiently addressed the defensive issues in their squad.
Full Chennaiyin FC squad
Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Vishal Kaith, Sanjiban Ghosh
Defenders: Lucian Goian, Eli Sabia, Tondonba Singh, Laldinliana Renthlei, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Zohmingliana Ralte, Reamsochung Aimol, Hendry Antonay
Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Dhanpal Ganesh, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Thoi Singh, Masih Saighani, Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, Germanpreet Singh, Andre Schembri, Rafael Crivallero, Deepak Tangri
Forwards: Dragos Firtulescu, Nerijus Valskis, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Rahim Ali
When John Gregory was given an extension to his contract, eyeballs were raised. After all, he was the manager that was at the helm when Chennaiyin hit rock-bottom. But as has been the mantra for the club, they have decided to keep the faith in their man, and will hope it pays off.
Gregory, who himself announced last season that he would not extend his contract before a u-turn, knows that his side and he are going to have to work to regain the faith of the fans, who have stuck by them through a tumultuous season.
Speaking to the ISL's official website, Gregory said that he and his team have learned a lot of important lessons from last season. It is up to the manager now to ensure those learnings are put to use.
Last season, Gregory also flummoxed everyone when he said that it was difficult to motivate his squad, who were then defending champions. This season, there are no such excuses, with the only possible way being up for the club.
Chennaiyin have got a bunch of hugely capable Indian players, but they will need their big-ticket overseas attackers to find the net with ease and regularity.
The gaps in the squad have been covered, especially in midfield and defence. Kaith taking Karanjit's place will also be a huge plus.
If their strikers find the net with regularity, something Jeje and co. didn't do last season, it does seem like Chennaiyin should make at least the playoffs.Published 16 Oct 2019, 22:25 IST